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*Asterisk = examples of errors or poor constructions*.

Student Learning: Grammar

Sentence subjects - Lesson four (When to use 'who' and when to use 'whom')

  1. 4.1 Overview of whom:

    The use of 'whom' is less common now than it used to be in more traditional language, and is mostly associated with legal or formal language. Technically who and whom are used as subject and object pronouns respectively depending on whether the person in question did the action in the verb (the sentence subject), or was receiving it (the sentence object).

You hit whom?

Whom should I follow?   (Mouse over → here to see note about modern English)

Notice that the examples above use whom in questions, and in both examples the pronoun (whom) represents the object of the sentence. You can test whether you need a 'who' or a 'whom' by interchanging it with another object pronoun. Look at the example here:...

* Whom left the lid off the toothpaste again?* (Note: The asterisks mean that this sentence has an error.)
Ahh, John did! Typical.

  1. 4.2 Relative pronouns

    Distinguishing whether to use who or whom when the sentence needs them as a relative pronoun is where most problems start to occur. We like this example from Grammar-Quizzes.com (opens in new tab).

The woman who called you is here.

The woman (whom) you called is here. (You can leave out whom.)

From: Sevastopoulos, J. (2011). Grammar-Quizzes.com: Practice on points of English grammar.
Retrieved from www.grammar-quizzes.com/clauses-2.html

It is now considered acceptable to use who or whom as a relative pronoun representing the object of the sentence. This means that many students, when in doubt, opt for who. You decide if this is the strategy that you would like to use, or whether you prefer to be strictly accurate.

  1. 4.3 With prepositions

    Sometimes in student writing we see students ending their sentences with a preposition. This isn't wrong, but it is not very formal. Look at these examples:...

  1. To whom should I address the card? = Who(m) should I address the card to?
  2. With whom did you see the accused talking? = Who(m) did you see the accused talking with?

Some people believe that English sentences should not end with a preposition. However, this has never been a rule in English, but take care that you choose an appropriate level of formality when deciding how to structure your sentences.